First published: 28/11/2020
Representatives of FEDORA and Cobham & Downside Residents’ Association met Dominic Raab on 20 November to discuss the Elmbridge Local Plan. The key points made to Dominic were as follows:
- It was important to focus on agreeing a sensible set of annual housing targets.In that way, unacceptable increases in urban densification could be avoided with protection of the Green Belt.
- Annual housing targets for Elmbridge had increased significantly from 225 in 2015 to a possible 775 as recently proposed by central government.
- The current annual rate of build is only about 350 and Elmbridge’s own urban capacity study shows clear capacity constraints.
- The basis of calculation used by central government contains serious conceptual flaws that render it inappropriate for use in areas such as Elmbridge.
- Increased densification might lead to arbitrary damage to local character through construction of high-rise buildings or contrived infill development in semi-urban or semi-rural areas.
- The Green Belt needed suitable protection.
- Market absorption constraints meant that actual housing output would be controlled by developers who would not want reduced housing prices.
- The provision of infrastructure to support increased development was hugely inadequate.
- Elmbridge seems not to have taken the opportunity to claim towards its target part of the 2,000 new homes at Wisley approved by Guildford that would draw substantially on Elmbridge resources.
- Proposed national planning guidance reference to urban areas does not adequately distinguish between genuinely urban areas and semi-rural areas such as Oxshott and Cobham.
In response, Dominic said that there was a need to avoid too heavy a burden for new housing being placed on areas in the south east. He therefore acknowledged that the possible housing target of 775 recently suggested by central government was unrealistic. However, he thought that the Council needed to move decisively towards a plan based on a lower number rather than continue to prevaricate. Although he considered that a target of around 600 was more realistic, he undertook to review the urban capacity study and its identification of constraints. His view was that rapid execution of an agreed plan was sensible to demonstrate commitment by the Council. If actual numbers then fell short of target, the Council would be in a better place to seek forbearance than if it took inadequate action.
Dominic confirmed that he remained opposed to use of Green Belt for housing. His view was that densification should be focussed on urban centres and appropriate public land. Importantly, he said that he thought that there was considerable opportunity to build over car parks (including those at stations) by putting parking below ground and affordable housing above ground.
With regards to infrastructure provision, Dominic expressed full support. He had written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to seek additional funding to support Surrey CC and pointed out the need for public money to be seen to be used to support councils with major increases in housing targets.
This was a wide ranging and constructive meeting. While the support for suitable protection of Green Belt was expected and welcome, it was extremely encouraging to hear the acknowledgement that increased density should be focussed on urban centres and public land. This latter point has been argued consistently by FEDORA but with no sign that the Council have taken it on board.
The next step will be for FEDORA and various other residents’ associations to write to the Council and state that:
The Council need to show greater decision and move towards finalisation of its Local Plan.
That plan should be based upon an annual housing target that is realistic.
Account must be taken of the effect of the major housing development at Wisley.
Increases in densification should be focused on existing urban centres and public land with a commitment to build affordable housing on car parks both in urban centres and at stations.
Suitable protection must remain in place for the Green Belt.